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2021 In Review: Which Aircraft Types Were Used The Most?

While 2021 saw aviation’s recovery taking a big jump from 2020, total commercial flights still sit around 20% lower than 2019 levels, according to data from Returning demand has allowed many aircraft, including the giant A380, to come out of storage, but which aircraft was the most used of 2021?

To find out 2021’s top aircraft, Simple Flying turned to aviation data experts Cirium. According to the data, 24,590,796 passenger flights were scheduled throughout the year. Readers should note that the following article is based on schedule data filed by airlines, and some flights may not actually have been flown.

Most used aircraft categories

Before we dive into detailed aircraft types, let’s look at the most used aircraft types in 2021. Narrowbody jets took the top spot with 17.1 million flights across 12 months. This accounted for almost 70% of total flights and is unsurprising as four or more short-haul flights could easily be operated by a plane in the same time taken for one long-haul flight.

What is interesting is that widebody jets don’t take the second spot. Only 1.4 million widebody jets were scheduled for 2021. Regional jets and turboprops both surpass this with 3.2 million and 1.9 million flights, respectively. Commerical helicopter (24,000) and business jet (7,900) flights did occur, but sparingly.

The top three narrowbody operators were all based in North America. These are Southwest (1.1 million flights), American Airlines (830,000 flights), and Delta Air Lines (770,000 flights).

Interestingly, Delta also claims the third spot for widebody operations with 65,000 flights. Surpassing Delta is Emirates with 82,000 flights, and Qatar Airways with 86,000 widebody flights according to Cirium’s schedule data.

2021’s top manufacturers

It wouldn’t be a massive surprise if we said that either Airbus or Boeing aircraft were used most for passenger flights in 2021. Both manufacturers have a practical duopoly on most of the industry, which China and Russia are slowly looking to break. But which of the two aerospace giants came out on top?

According to Cirium’s data, Airbus aircraft were used the most for scheduled passenger flights during 2021, with some 9.3 million flights scheduled. American Airlines was the top Airbus operator of 2021 with 488,215 flights planned with the European planemaker’s aircraft.

Only four other aircraft manufacturers saw their planes scheduled for more than a million flights. Boeing confidently took the second spot with 8.4 million flights. Southwest was by far the biggest Boeing operator of the year. With its all-Boeing fleet, the US carrier scheduled over one million flights. Delta took the second spot with 463,300 Boeing flights.

The gap between third and fourth was minimal. Bombardier came next with 2.4 million flights, while Embraer clocked in with 2.3 million flights. ATR was the only other manufacturer surpassing one million flights. Cessna (503,970) and Saab (101,455) were the only others to top 100,000.

So what about the top types?

Unlike the manufacturer leaderboard, Boeing took the top spot in terms of aircraft types. The Boeing 737-800 was scheduled for 4,537,400 flights during 2021. 2,890,232 (64%) of these were just listed as being operated by the 737-800, while a further 1,647,168 were attributed to 737-800s with winglets (73H).

European low-cost carrier Ryanair was the 737-800’s top user in 2021, with 436,537. This equates to around 10% of the total. With the 737-800 alone, Ryanair is the third biggest Boeing user of the year. Southwest Airlines was the second biggest user of the type, with 342,031 flights scheduled this year.

With Airbus clocking in as the top manufacturer for 2021, it is surprising that the manufacturer isn’t also behind the leading type of the year. The European planemaker has been building A320s since 1986. Through the neo (new engine option) program, a new generation of the popular narrowbody is taking the world by storm.

The Airbus A320 was the aircraft associated with 4.5 million scheduled flights this year, equating to around 18% of all flights. This meant that airlines offered over 760 million seats across the world on the single-aisle aircraft.

The remaining A320 family

The remainder of the Airbus A320 family has also clocked a decent number of flights. According to Cirium’s data, the A321 was associated with 1,519,552 scheduled flights this year. With the A321LR and XLR becoming increasingly popular, this could rise in future years. The littlest A320 family aircraft still in productions (the A319) only just surpassed the one million mark with 1,084,101 flights scheduled.

What about other categories of aircraft?

It’s pretty straightforward that the narrowbody rules the roost when it comes to the 2021 aircraft schedule, partly as short-haul flights have recovered faster than long-haul. But which aircraft take the top spots looking at other categories of aircraft?

The top aircraft not included in the narrowbody category is a turboprop. Across its variations, the ATR 72 accounted for 721,094 flights, just 36,000 fewer than the Boeing 737-700 with winglets. In terms of regional jets, the Bombardier CRJ900 stole the top spot. This jet accounted for 602,740 of scheduled flights.

The top widebody is the Boeing 777-300ER. Interestingly, the widebody accounts for fewer than 5% of the flights scheduled for the Boeing 737-800. While playing a significant part in the Emirates fleet, the 777-300ER was only attributed for 209,556 flights this year. Emirates was the top operator of the type with 65,145 flights.

While 2021 was the year of the A380’s recovery, it hardly flew at all compared to the other airlines. Just 13,223 flights were scheduled with the giant of the skies this year, with Emirates accounting for 12,529 of these.

Which aircraft type did you fly on most this year?

S: Simple Flying

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